3 July 2020


Inspecting Discrimination

The Independent Schools Inspectorate inspects over 1300 independent schools in England.  We inspect and monitor the educational, boarding care and early years provision of association independent schools against the Independent School Standards, which are set by the government.  As an inspectorate, we do not have the power to make changes to these standards. 

ISI’s purpose is to enable children to be safe, well-educated and to thrive and as an organisation we cherish diversity and tolerance.  The welfare of the child is at the heart of everything we do. We are committed to playing our part in ensuring that all pupils are treated with respect, regardless of their background and that diversity in the student body is celebrated as a positive feature of our schools. 

When inspecting schools, we consider whether they actively encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Act.  This includes the effectiveness with which schools deal with discrimination, including racism, in all its forms. Inspectors review policies and, crucially, evaluate the efficacy of their implementation through interviews with pupils and teachers, anonymous questionnaires and opportunities to speak individually with inspectors. Inspectors look at the curriculum as a whole and how it deals with diversity and discrimination.  The culture of a school impacts directly on safeguarding and on attitudes and behaviours of all members of the school community.  Where a school is found to be failing to encourage respect for others and/or to deal effectively with racism, it will be judged as not meeting the standards and the DfE as regulator will take any appropriate action.

We are constantly striving to make sure that our inspections are rigorous and effective and we have included recent concerns over racial discrimination in our ongoing self-assessment as we continue to re-examine our structures, assumptions and processes.  All of our inspections focus on the wellbeing of pupils, whatever their background and we are always open to finding new ways of enabling pupils to share concerns with inspectors.  As an organisation we recognise that we need to listen, reflect and – most crucially - act, so that we, together with our schools and inspectors, can play our part in bringing about meaningful and lasting change.

Inspecting discrimination – for schools

We are aware there is currently extensive discussion and debate surrounding discrimination against individuals as a result of their race and ethnicity.

Schools may wish to know how ISI approach this issue during inspections. The approach taken by ISI has always been not just to check that suitable policies are in place, but to inspect how effectively schools implement these policies.

Race is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Those most relevant to pupils in schools are:

  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

In its inspection of ISC schools, ISI considers compliance with the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 (‘ISSRs’).

In this particular area we would focus on:

  • ISSR 2 (2) (d) (ii) [protected characteristics] Notes 50 to 53 in the Commentary on the Regulatory Requirements (September 2019)
  • ISSR 3 (i) [not undermining those of different faith] Note 88
  • ISSR 3 (j) [discrimination]. Note 89 [NB this applies to all teaching, not simply teaching about discrimination].
  • ISSR 5 (a) [actively promoting fundamental British values] Notes 126 and 127.
  • ISSR 5 (b) (v) (vi) (vii) and (c) Notes 131 to 148.
  • For boarding schools, NMS 16  -  equal opportunities

Other parts of the ISSRs potentially relevant in relation to the protected characteristics are in Part 3, the Welfare, Health and Safety of Pupils, in which the school must ensure the matters in the following paragraphs:

  • ISSR 7 - the safeguarding and promotion of the welfare of the pupils
  • ISSR 8 - the safeguarding and promotion of the welfare of the boarders
  • ISSR 9 – good behaviour amongst pupils (policy, effective implementation and records)
  • ISSR 10 – bullying prevented so far as reasonably practicable (strategy and effective implementation)
  • ISSR 16 – risk assessment (policy drawn up and implemented and appropriate action taken to reduce identified risks)
  • ISSR 33 – complaints (suitable complaints policy drawn up and implemented in practice)
  • ISSR 34 – leadership and management (non-compliance in any of the areas identified above)

Schools should consider how they approach this increasingly complex area, and it important to consider the context for each individual school. Our inspection focus is on outcomes in terms of pupils’ behaviour and attitudes. All inspectors hold or have held senior positions in schools, and will bring a very open minded approach to looking at the issues. It is important to remember it is not just about policies but establishing a culture within the school.

Schools should balance the need to meet the requirements above, whilst actively encouraging debate amongst pupils and between pupils and staff about current issues. The two should not be contradictory.